2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Introduction
The Subaru Outback was one of the original modern crossover suvs, a two-tone option package for the 1995 Legacy station wagon that became a separate model for 1996. That 1996 Outback went on sale the same year as Toyota’s RAV4, and arrived nearly a decade after the last AMC Eagle – the real original crossover SUV – had been produced. The Outback employed the same basic design and engineering philosophy as the AMC Eagle in that it mated a station wagon body to an all-wheel-drive system, a raised suspension, and SUV styling cues.
The difference, obviously, is that the AMC Eagle didn’t fly, while the Subaru Outback is still blazing a trail across the sales chart.
Today’s Subaru Outback remains based on the Subaru Legacy, but is a separate model that has replaced the Legacy station wagon in the automaker’s lineup. It competes against 5-passenger crossover SUVs including models such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Jeep Patriot, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Nissan Murano, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan.
For 2013, Subaru has made numerous changes to the Outback, so we scheduled one for a week-long test-drive over the holidays, and put the car to work toting children and gifts around the Los Angeles area during a week of uncharacteristically cold and wet weather. In other words, perfect meteorological conditions for the 2013 Outback.
The 2013 Subaru Outback lineup includes 2.5i models and 3.6R models, all equipped with all-wheel drive and starting at $24,590 including a $795 destination charge.
The Outback 2.5i is equipped with a 173-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder “boxer” engine and a choice between a 6-speed manual gearbox and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It is offered in standard ($24,590), Premium ($26,090), and Limited ($30,190) trim levels. The Outback 3.6R is powered by a 256-horsepower, 6-cylinder “boxer” engine paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission. This model is available in standard ($29,290) and Limited ($32,890) trim levels.
My test car was the Outback 2.5i Limited, equipped with a Special Appearance Package that added Saddle Brown leather seats, 2-position memory for the driver’s seat settings, matte-finish woodgrain cabin trim, keyless passive entry with push-button ignition, upgraded floor mats, darkened headlamp bezels, gray exterior door handles and mirror caps, a gray grille, and 17-inch aluminum wheels with gray painted pockets and a machined surface.
Additional options on my $33,835 Outback 2.5i Limited included a Power Moonroof Package (power moonroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, reversing camera) and a voice-activated navigation system with a 7-inch color touch-screen and four months of free NavTraffic service.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Design
- New headlights and fog lights
- Restyled grille and front bumper
- Upgraded roof rack
- New wheel designs
- Standard electroluminescent gauges for Limited models
- Standard 3.5-inch information display screen for Limited models
- Optional Special Appearance Package
Since the Subaru Outback first debuted, it has served as proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Who, without having first driven one in a snowstorm, taken one down a trail more fit for a traditional SUV, or lived with one as a daily driver for family duty, would ever have referred to any Subaru Outback of any vintage as beautiful?
For 2013, Subaru has touched up the Outback’s styling with new headlights, new fog lights, a new grille, and a new front bumper. It doesn’t necessarily look better, but neither does it look worse. Honestly, the line drawing of a Subaru’s front end that appears on the information display’s welcome screen depicts a far more attractive vehicle.
The standard Outback is equipped with sorry 16-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers, while the rest of the lineup comes standard with a new 17-inch wheel design that is painted gray on 2.5i Premium models and equipped with machined-face spokes on 2.5i Limited models. Frankly the 17-inch wheels look a little undersized given the Outback’s height and swollen fenders.
My 2.5i Limited test car had the new Special Appearance Package, which includes gray-finish exterior trim for a more upscale appearance. The new Special Appearance Package also includes matte-finish woodgrain cabin trim and Saddle-color leather seats, which gave my Outback a convincing degree of entry-level luxury. Combined with the Outback Limited model’s electroluminescent gauge display, ambient overhead lighting, and high-resolution navigation screen, as well as quality materials with low-gloss finishes and tasteful patterns, the Special Appearance Package absolutely helps the Outback’s cabin pass for premium grade.
Unfortunately, my made-in-Indiana test car’s left-side A-pillar trim was poorly aligned with the headliner, resulting in a gaping, inconsistent gap right where the driver would often see it. Also, the door seal on the right rear passenger door of my test car was a twisted mess. Seems as though the folks working the line in Lafayette could apply a little bit of extra attention to detail during the assembly process.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- New seat fabric for standard and Premium models
- New rear air conditioning vents for Limited models
- Standard touch-sensitive tailgate release
- Optional Special Appearance Package
One of the ways that a Subaru Outback endears itself to its owner is through its comfortable front and rear seats, and its large, useful cargo area.
Unlike many compact and midsize crossover SUVs, the Subaru Outback is really easy to get into and out of, with a perfectly positioned hip-point for the front and rear seats. Anyone suffering from knee, hip, or back pain will really appreciate this vehicle. Moms and Dads, take note: that same perfect hip-point location also translates to easy loading and unloading of children in child safety seats.
Once settled in, the Limited model’s leather-wrapped front chairs are exceptionally comfortable, especially the 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat. Both front seats provide ample thigh support thanks to properly shaped bottom cushions and their elevated height from the floor, and both front seat headroom and seat track travel allow the Outback to accommodate people of taller stature.
Getting into the back seat is exceptionally easy, and the rear bench sits tall enough to supply good thigh support. The seatback reclines in a way that results in greater comfort for napping, and unless the front seat occupants are extremely tall, the car offers plenty of legroom, um, out back.
The Outback Limited model’s leather feels soft and durable at the same time. The upper portions of the door panels are covered with soft-touch material, the door armrests are cushy, and the front and rear center armrests are plush. Combine the Outback’s seat comfort with soft places to rest elbows, a perfectly sized and shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel, and appealing materials, textures, and tones, and this all-weather Subaru serves as a soothing haven, providing shelter and respite from the outside world.
In terms of storage areas, the Outback offers plenty, many with rubber liners to quell vibrations and to hold items in place. Cargo space is on par with compact crossover SUVs, with 34.3 cu.-ft. available behind the rear seat and 71.3 cu.-ft. of volume with the rear seat folded down. The Outback also offers dual hidden storage trays under the rear cargo floor.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard Bluetooth with music streaming capability
- Standard USB port with iPod connection
Generally speaking, the Outback’s interior layout is intuitive, placing controls where you expect to find them. How they work, however, is another story.
Oddly, the optional touch-screen navigation is a breeze to use, employing large intuitive icons on the screen itself combined with a row of big, clearly marked primary function buttons at the bottom edge of the screen. Play around with the system, and you’ll discover your home’s elevation above sea level (mine is 863 feet) and find out where the sun is rising or setting anywhere in the world.
Under normal circumstances, I would applaud the fact that trip computer, radio, and climate functions are – for the most part – operated independently of the touch-screen. Unfortunately, Subaru has some work to do in making each of these systems easier and more intuitive to use.
The Limited model’s dual-zone climate control system is actually quite simple. I just prefer temperature control knobs to temperature control buttons. The stereo is less intuitive, though at first glance one might never assume as much.
For the stereo, Subaru employs three knobs and an array of large buttons to control primary functions. The small left knob manages system power and volume, which is as it should be. The small right knob, however, does not control tuning as one might expect. In fact, it doesn’t rotate at all. Instead, this is a round push-button used for muting the stereo. To tune stations, the big center knob is required, the one surrounded by six pre-set station buttons.
More frustrating, however, is the 3.5-inch information display in the gauge cluster and its ancillary dash-top display. When the Outback arrived, I wanted to reset the average fuel economy part of the trip computer. This task required use of the owner’s manual to execute, and even then I accidentally stumbled upon the right sequence of inputs to reset the system. Bah.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Brake Override technology is standard
- EyeSight Package is optional on Limited models
In addition to a common package of standard safety features, the 2013 Subaru Outback is equipped with a new Brake Override technology designed to make it impossible for the vehicle to accelerate if the brake pedal is pressed. A Ring-shaped Reinforcement Frame design is also standard, engineered to deflect crash energy away from the passenger compartment in a collision.
Another new feature for 2013 is Subaru’s EyeSight system, which is optional on Outback Limited models equipped with a power moonroof and a navigation system. In exchange for $1,295, the EyeSight system equips the Outback with an adaptive cruise control system, pre-collision braking technology, and a lane departure warning system.
2013 Subaru Outback Crash-Test Ratings:
The updated 2013 Outback has been named a “Top Safety Pick +” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thanks to its top-rated performance in five different evaluations, including the tough new small overlap frontal impact crash-test.
The NHTSA had not performed crash tests on the 2013 Outback as this review was written, but last year’s structurally identical model achieved 4- or 5-star ratings in all tests except the side-impact pole test, for which it received a 3-star rating.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- New 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine for 2.5i models
- Second-generation continuously variable transmission
Subaru offers two different engines in the Outback, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder in the 2.5i models or a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder in the 3.6R models. Both are horizontally opposed engine designs, also called “boxer” engines, or “flat-four” and “flat-six” engines. Only Subaru and Porsche sell models with this type of engine, except for Scion, which markets its FR-S sports car with a Subaru-sourced 4-cylinder boxer engine.
Our 2013 Outback 2.5i Limited had the 4-cylinder engine, which is new this year. It generates 173 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 174 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,100 rpm, and drives all four of the Outback’s wheels through a 6-speed manual gearbox. In some parts of the country, the Outback is rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV).
A second-generation Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional for standard and Premium models, and standard on the Limited model we drove. Models with the Lineartronic CVT also get a manual shift mode with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to reduce the drone commonly associated with such transmissions.
According to the EPA, our Outback Limited 2.5i should have returned 24 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg in combined driving. We averaged 23.1 mpg, in a mix of driving weighted more to the city side of the equation.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Subaru’s rally-car heritage is evident in the driving dynamics of every vehicle in the automaker’s lineup, though you’d never guess that a dowdy Outback could handle switchbacks with any kind of grace. Nevertheless, the car feels lively on a twisty road, and impressively solid and surefooted when driving on the freeway and in the city.
Credit goes, in part, to the car’s 2.5-liter boxer engine, which provides a lower center of gravity and allows the high-riding Outback to feel more like a standard passenger car when tossed into a corner.
The Outback’s suspension also deserves credit, riding firm and feeling solid even if the body rolls a bit in corners. Though communicative, the suspension is also absorptive, allowing only the largest of jolts to actually make it through the seats to the car’s occupants. Designed to handle moderate off-roading duty, the Outback’s underpinnings supply 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
Heavy, numb, and vague off-center, the Outback’s steering is the Subaru’s least appealing dynamic trait. I found it easy to wander within my lane, and the steering is fairly unresponsive to the sort of fine-tuning that allows a driver to correct course quickly and without drama. The steering wheel, however, is great to look at and to grip.
Collectively, the stout suspension and leaden steering make the Outback feel like a substantial vehicle, like there’s plenty of weight low to the road even if it’s a tall-riding wagon weighing all of 3,538 lbs. The primary handling limitation, on pavement anyway, is the tires, all-season rubber measuring P225/60R17.
The Outback 2.5i model’s Lineartronic CVT is geared to feel responsive off the line. Perhaps too much so, as the Outback feels like it leaps forward with just the slightest input. By contrast, mash the accelerator pedal to the floor and the Outback feels like it’s going nowhere fast, suffering an interminable delay before enough power arrives to supply meaningful forward thrust.
As is expected, the CVT exhibits a characteristic steady-state drone when the car is accelerating, but the driver can ameliorate this by shifting into Manual mode and using the paddle shifters to run through the six “gears.” Still, because the engine offers little thrill in its mid-range, and because the CVT does an excellent job of maximizing available power in the first place, the car’s Manual mode isn’t terribly satisfying.
I also noticed that when shifting from Reverse into Drive on a hill, the Outback unexpectedly rolled backwards after releasing the brake pedal and before stepping on the accelerator. San Franciscans, consider this due warning.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
As a former Michigander and Denverite, I know exactly how awesome the Subaru Outback is for people who live where Mother Nature performs some of her most magnificent works. In such regions, an Outback is an adopted member of the family, doing just about anything at anytime, no matter the weather conditions, while costing little in exchange for the service.
Now, as a Californian in his mid-40s with two young children, I see new benefits to Outback ownership. The Outback is a PZEV-rated vehicle. It supplies 8.7 inches of ground clearance, great for straddling road debris on the 405 and for helping my family to make it out alive after The Big One strikes. Entering, exiting, and loading/extracting children is exceptionally easy. Plus, the Outback aces the latest IIHS crash tests.
Unfortunately, the Outback isn’t perfect. Opinions of its styling aside, the Outback’s interior controls require revisions, the steering needs fine-tuning, and it could certainly use a hill-hold system of some kind. This is a pretty short list of complaints, though, and these items can be overlooked in the presence of so much that it exactly right.2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- “Top Safety Pick +” crash-test rating
- PZEV engine emissions rating
- Comfortable seats
- Roomy accommodations
- Quality materials, textures, and tones
- Standard AWD
- Funky controls
- Slow, dimwitted steering
- Lacks a hill-hold feature
- Disappointing fuel economy
Subaru supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Subaru Outback photos by Christian Wardlaw